If you’re in college hockey, you’ve heard about Michigan’s freshman class.
Long before they entered Yost Ice Arena, they formed one of the best recruiting classes in the country together. Each of the new players came up with a successful resume and NHL concept hype. So far, three of the freshman forwards Brendan Brisson and Thomas Bordeleau and goalkeeper Erik Portillo have been lined up in the first, second and third rounds respectively.
And yet the highest choices are likely to come. Forward Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson and Power defender Owen arent draft-eligible until July, but are projected to be the top 10 overall pick. Power could be the number 1 overall choice.
Before the start of the season, it sounded like Michigan coach Mel Pearson was trying to manage the already inflated expectations.
I don’t know how good we are, but find out soon … said Pearson ahead of Michigans’ season opener. (The freshmen) just have to find their way, they don’t have to lead our team, but eventually they do.
In the end it came quite quickly. The freshman class accounted for 50% of the points and 42 of Michigan’s 91 goals this season. Of the 10 new players, six have made a serious contribution so far.
Pearson told reporters that Power was as good as advertised, but his stellar performance both with and without the puck cemented this top status.
Since I’m just here, I’ve developed a lot, Power said. “I think my biggest thing was the way to control my gap and kill plays before they start.
Beniers has the second highest plus-minus in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are rarely caught in a breakaway when Beniers is on the ice, as his speed was crucial on offense and defense. Although he is a jack of all trades, he is also a master of nothing. Pearson has said that Beniers (10 goals) should work on moving the puck and improve in the faceoff.
It’s a higher speed game in college hockey than in the past few years I’ve played, so just get used to playing in it and making faster decisions, Beniers said. Because of course you have to do that at every level, you will have to adapt to the speed of the game and you will have to make faster decisions.
When asked who has improved over the season, Johnson was the first to take charge of Pearson.
For the first half of the year (Johnson was) 160 pounds dripping wet, playing against a 25-year-old who got 30.40 pounds on him and he has to play against him, Pearson said after the Wolverines’ last game of the season. But Kent, I give him a lot of credit. He has made huge improvements, made huge strides.
In the past 10 games, Johnson has accumulated nine points.
Pearson has said that Wolverines freshmen have a high hockey IQ, something that seems vague and indefinable until you watch them on the ice.
Their understanding of the game is evident in the way they handle the puck and maneuver through opponents. And it only becomes clearer when they play together. The most successful forward comes from the duo of Beniers and Johnson, who have combined 45 points in the season, mainly due to their complementary styles.
Pearson describes Beniers as having an endless motor, while Johnson is a more cerebral player. He maneuvers the puck with a little more flair, leading to plays with high points in front of goal.
As two of the team’s fastest players, the Brisson and Bordeleau combo regularly get 2-on-1 breakaways, making them an offensive threat against almost any opponent. This season, one has scored seven goals, while the other provided the primary assist.
They haven’t been on par together for as long as Beniers and Johnson, but they’ve developed quite a bit of chemistry in recent months.
When five men produce half of the Wolverines attack, it can be easy to put them on a pedestal. But success has not come without its challenges. Swirling concept rumors make the difficult transition to college hockey even more challenging.
For all three of us, we don’t talk about it that often, Power said. We’re going to the skating rink and on the skating rink there’s no one where you’re really ranked or what’s going on.
But it seems like the hype is always growing, possibly because they are one of the few inexperienced NHL players to play this year. Most of the top college players have already been drafted and many of the junior leagues are not playing this year.
With the concept only four months away, Pearson knows it’s getting harder to block that sound, but he asked his players to stay on the phone for a while longer.
On Sunday, Michigan will learn the fate of the NCAA after the season (7pm, ESPNU). Freshmen will be thrown to a whole new level of competition. But regardless of what happens in the next two weeks, Pearson has just one other goal:
We have to make sure they stay in Ann Arbor for a few years.
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